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Media watchdog calls for ‘unconditional release’ of Afghan reporters detained by Taliban

Taliban forces hold a military parade celebrating the one-year anniversary of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. (Screenshot)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

International press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called for the release of nine Afghan journalists arbitrarily arrested by Taliban security forces this month.

Antoine Bernard, RSF’s director of advocacy and assistance, said on August 16 that RSF wants the “unconditional release” of all nine Afghan journalists.

“The situation of press freedom in Afghanistan is quite alarming,” he told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi. “The Taliban government is fully responsible for violating press freedom.”

Bernard said that according to an RSF probe, the Taliban arrested Faqir Mohammad Faqirzai, Jan Agha Saleh, Habib Sarab, Wahdatullah Abdali, Haseeb Hassas, Attaullah Omar, Waheedur Rahman Afghanmal, Parvaiz Sargand, and Shamsullah Omari.

Most of the detained reporters worked for independent Afghan media outlets in remote towns and cities in five Afghan provinces.

RSF says the Taliban is currently holding 12 Afghan journalists, including Morteza Behbodhi. The Afghan-French journalist was arrested on January 7.

The Taliban has claimed that the arrests are unrelated to the reporter’s professional work. Neither Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed nor his deputy, Bilal Karimi, responded to Radio Azadi’s request for comments.

But Zarif Karimi, the Afghan Free Media Support Organization (NAI) head, questioned the Taliban claim.

“It is not possible that nine journalists are under arrest and their detentions have nothing to do with their media work,” he told Azadi.

A relative of Omar, one of the nine detained journalists, called on the Taliban to release him. Omar, a reporter for Tolo News Television in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar, was detained on August 13.

“We want him to be freed with dignity,” he told Radio Azadi while requesting anonymity because of security fears. “He is the only breadwinner of his family. His three children are waiting for his release.”

Despite promises to allow press freedom after returning to power, the Taliban has shut down independent radio stations, television studios, and newspapers. Some media outlets have closed after losing funding.

The Taliban’s hard-line government has banned some international broadcasters while some foreign correspondents were denied visas.

The ultraconservative Islamist group has also driven hundreds of Afghan journalists into exile.